Families: Paria Board Must Go

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – Two years after they left the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery compound in anguish and heartbreak, the families of the divers who died inside the pipeline returned to the gates of Paria Fuel Trading Company Ltd to protest and make one clear demand.

The directors on the board of Paria must be termina­ted or resign, they said, and anything less would be an unforgivable stain on the reputation of the company and on the Government who appointed the board members.

Board chairman New­man George and direc­tors Eustace Nancis, Fayad Ali, Peter Clarke, Avie Chadee and Reza Salim were in charge of Paria on February 25, 2022, when the five divers were sucked into the pipeline.

Kazim Ali Jnr, 36; Fyzal Kurban, 57; Yusuf Henry, 31; and Rishi Nagas­sar, 48, died without any attempt being made to rescue them. Christopher Boodram, 36, emerged from the pipeline alive.

Paria has issued no public acknowledgement of the calls for the board to step down.

And line minister Stuart Young, who visited the Paria facility during the three days the men were left in the pipeline, did not comment yesterday.

Last Friday, a detailed report on the commission of enquiry into the Paria diving tra­gedy was laid in Parliament.

Young said then that the report had been sent to the Director of Pub­lic Prosecutions (DPP) for consideration.

Responding to Opposition MP Rodney Charles, Young said the Cabinet had taken a collective decision to forward the document to the DPP for advice on further action.

Young said, “The document was sent to the Office of the Director of Public Pro­secutions for him to take a thorough look at, and we all know if he sees it fit to engage the Trini­dad and Tobago Police Service or any other investigative arm, he will do so.”

Corporate manslaughter

The grieving families are not convinced that any action would be taken against Paria’s management.

The wives of Fyzal Kurban and Rishi Nagassar joined the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) in protest outside the gates of Paria’s Pointe-a-Pierre facility yesterday.

Boodram, the lone sur­vivor, was also among the protesters.

Boodram said he was disappointed no one was held culpable for the tra­gedy that had changed his life forever.

The report produced by subsea specialist Gre­gory Wilson and Jerome Lynch, KC, contained a recommendation for a criminal case of corporate manslaughter against Paria.

Boodram said he was advised that there were no specific laws regarding criminal liability for corporate negligence resulting in death in Trinidad and Tobago. And he believed no individuals would be held accountable.

Standing side by side, the wives of Kurban and Nagassar held up banners with photographs of the deceased divers.

Nagassar’s wife, Vanessa Kussie, said she had not returned to the site since the day her husband’s body was retrieved from the pipeline as it was too painful.

Kuban’s wife, Celisha, and her children stood silently.

Do the right thing

OWTU Pointe-a-Pierre branch president Christopher Jackman is expected to deliver a letter to the management of Paria Fuel Trading this morning (Friday) making two requests—that the board of directors resign and discussions commence on compensation for the families.

Should Paria fail to respond within one week, Jackman said the trade union would begin a series of demonstrations to pressure the Government into taking action.

“I am saying every one of the management team inside there needs to go. We’re speaking about the board, every member in that Incident Command Team. From the ones who went into the court and said they did an excellent job to the ones who went in the court and took responsibility for what happened as being the persons that led the Incident Command Team,” he said.

And if the board refuses to resign, Jackman said the Government “should do the right thing” and remove them.

“If not, it is fair for us to consider them Government) as complicit, as accomplices, in what would have taken place, so do the right thing, remove the board, the Incident Command Team, from power,” he said.

Jackman said he was disappointed that Paria had not yet reached out to the families of the deceased divers regarding compensation.

He said the commission of enquiry report indicated that the families should have received assistance from the company.

Recommendation 38 in the report stated: “In situations where families have had their loved ones and breadwinners snatched away from them in circumstances such as these, or any tragedy, real conside­ration needs to be given to assisting the families in the immediate aftermath of the incident to help them with the financial burden that they have been catapulted into. This does not have to involve any admission of liability, merely the recognition that the families of those who have died or been seriously injured may need help.”

Jackman said: “It has been made clear here that the families were treated wrongfully, and each and every one of us have to take it up on ourselves to fight for compensation for these families. The reality is that is the easiest recommendation from this report to implement, and to implement as we speak.”

He said the trade union was calling on Paria to reach out to the families within one week or face protest action.

Jackman called on the nation to rally around the families and to gather at the Pointe-a-Pierre roundabout next week Thursday.

“We need to push this and ramp it up, and that is the only way that attention would be drawn,” he said.

The board of directors

When Petrotrin closed in 2018, Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd (TPHL) was established with three subsidiary companies—Heritage, to oversee the exploration and production business; Paria Fuel Tra­ding Company; and Guaracara Refining Company, which is responsible for the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery that remains on the market for sale.

In April 2021, Government added five new directors to the boards of TPHL and its subsidiaries, following their reconstitution—Fayad Ali, Vincent Bartholomew, Everard Bennett, Avie Chadee and Marlon George.

Chairman of the TPHL board of directors Michael Quamina said then, “The new appointees bring a wealth of experience not only in the oil and gas sectors but also finance, sustainable energy and other industries. Their contributions at the respective boards will support the strategic direction of TPHL and its subsidiary companies.”